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Athletes plunge into Hipple Lake, part of the Missouri River near Farm Island Recreation Area. It was the mass start of the 2018 Riverman/Riverwoman Sprint Triathlon. This was fun, right? (Dave Askins/Capital Journal)

What defines “Fun?” There are probably as many answers as there are people. But according to the people at financial website WalletHub, “Fun” is something that can be broken down mathematically. In a 2019 survey, they did just that, and assigned each state in the Union an overall Fun Ranking based on its scores in some 26 different categories.

Sunny California came out on top as the country’s number one most fun state, to no one’s surprise, while poor West Virginia was ranked dead last. Not all the Country Roads and Mountain Mamas in Appalachia could liven it up, it seems.

How did our own South Dakota rank?

In a word: meh.

The survey deemed South Dakota the 31st most fun state out of 50, which is not exactly a bragging-rights score. Digging into the specifics that led to this oh-so-mediocre rating, it becomes clear that the Sunshine State (not Florida) was hurt by its lack in a few specific categories.

First, the state has very few restaurants per capita. Out of all 50 states, South Dakota ranked 47 in this figure, beating out only Wyoming, Alaska and our even-less-fun neighbor North Dakota. Surprisingly, this lack of diners, dives and drive-ins didn’t completely tank the state’s “Nightlife” score - South Dakota beat the spread at 18th out of 50. Perhaps all those microbreweries in the Black Hills made up for it.

South Dakota also suffered from its own geography. Being landlocked, the state naturally ranked low in its total number of marinas per capita, as well as its access to aquatic fun in general. We ranked 46th in this category, beating out additional landlocked states New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah and Nebraska.

So what saved the state from ranking even lower than it did?

In five words: The Badlands, the Black Hills.

The survey ranked South Dakota an enviable 4th place in terms of its access to national parks and landmarks. With close to 14 million tourists and 2.6 billion dollars moving through the state tourism industry annually, according to a 2018 report by KOTA TV ABC, it’s easy to why this ranking was so high. Only Alaska, Wyoming and Montana placed higher.

So South Dakota isn’t the most “fun” state in the country, according to a financial website’s team of economic professors. So Minnesota, of all places, is apparently a hoot - it took 7th place overall, even beating out Texas, Hawaii and Louisiana. So what? The state’s National Parks are still the envy of the country, bastions of natural beauty that people the world over come to see.

And at least we’re not West Virginia.

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